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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index A > Category: Abstract Mathematics

Abstract Mathematics Quotes (9 quotes)

Before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned—the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted—nature's answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of the theorist, who finds himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics. Of course, this does not mean that the experimenter does not also engage in theoretical deliberations. The foremost classical example of a major achievement produced by such a division of labor is the creation of spectrum analysis by the joint efforts of Robert Bunsen, the experimenter, and Gustav Kirchoff, the theorist. Since then, spectrum analysis has been continually developing and bearing ever richer fruit.
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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Experimenters are the shock troops of science … An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature’s answer. But before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned–the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted–Nature’s answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of theorists, who find himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics.
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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I am of the decided opinion, that mathematical instruction must have for its first aim a deep penetration and complete command of abstract mathematical theory together with a clear insight into the structure of the system, and doubt not that the instruction which accomplishes this is valuable and interesting even if it neglects practical applications. If the instruction sharpens the understanding, if it arouses the scientific interest, whether mathematical or philosophical, if finally it calls into life an esthetic feeling for the beauty of a scientific edifice, the instruction will take on an ethical value as well, provided that with the interest it awakens also the impulse toward scientific activity. I contend, therefore, that even without reference to its applications mathematics in the high schools has a value equal to that of the other subjects of instruction.
In 'Ueber das Lehrziel im mathemalischen Unterricht der höheren Realanstalten', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, 2, 192. (The Annual Report of the German Mathematical Association. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 73.
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In abstract mathematical theorems, the approximation to absolute truth is perfect. … In physical science, on the contrary, we treat of the least quantities which are perceptible.
In The Principles of Science: A Treatise on Logic and Scientific Method (1913), 478.
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Mathematical theories have sometimes been used to predict phenomena that were not confirmed until years later. For example, Maxwell’s equations, named after physicist James Clerk Maxwell, predicted radio waves. Einstein’s field equations suggested that gravity would bend light and that the universe is expanding. Physicist Paul Dirac once noted that the abstract mathematics we study now gives us a glimpse of physics in the future. In fact, his equations predicted the existence of antimatter, which was subsequently discovered. Similarly, mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky said that “there is no branch of mathematics, however abstract, which may not someday be applied to the phenomena of the real world.”
In 'Introduction', The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics (2009), 12.
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One doesn’t really understand what mathematics is until at least halfway through college when one takes abstract math courses and learns about proofs.
In 'A Personal Profile of Karen K. Uhlenbeck', collected in Susan Ambrose et al., Journeys of Women in Science and Engineering, No Universal Constants (1999).
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Science progresses by a series of combinations in which chance plays not the least role. Its life is rough and resembles that of minerals which grow by juxtaposition [accretion]. This applies not only to science such as it emerges [results] from the work of a series of scientists, but also to the particular research of each one of them. In vain would analysts dissimulate: (however abstract it may be, analysis is no more our power than that of others); they do not deduce, they combine, they compare: (it must be sought out, sounded out, solicited.) When they arrive at the truth it is by cannoning from one side to another that they come across it.
English translation from manuscript, in Évariste Galois and Peter M. Neumann, 'Dossier 12: On the progress of pure analysis', The Mathematical Writings of Évariste Galois (2011), 263. A transcription of the original French is on page 262. In the following quote from that page, indicated deletions are omitted, and Webmaster uses parentheses to enclose indications of insertions above the original written line. “La science progresse par une série de combinaisons où le hazard ne joue pas le moindre rôle; sa vie est brute et ressemble à celle des minéraux qui croissent par juxtà position. Cela s’applique non seulement à la science telle qu’elle résulte des travaux d’une série de savants, mais aussi aux recherches particulières à chacun d’eux. En vain les analystes voudraient-ils se le dissimuler: (toute immatérielle qu’elle wst analyse n’est pas pas plus en notre pouvoir que des autres); ils ne déduisent pas, ils combinent, ils comparent: (il faut l’epier, la sonder, la solliciter) quand ils arrivent à la vérité, c’est en heurtant de côté et d’autre qu’il y sont tombés.” Webmaster corrected from typo “put” to “but” in the English text.
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The sciences are taught in following order: morality, arithmetic, accounts, agriculture, geometry, longimetry, astronomy, geomancy, economics, the art of government, physic, logic, natural philosophy, abstract mathematics, divinity, and history.
From Ain-i-Akbery (c.1590). As translated from the original Persian, by Francis Gladwin in 'Akbar’s Conduct and Administrative Rules', 'Regulations For Teaching in the Public Schools', Ayeen Akbery: Or, The Institutes of the Emperor Akber (1783), Vol. 1, 290. Note: Akbar (Akber) was a great ruler; he was an enlightened statesman. He instituted a great system for general education.
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There is no branch of mathematics, however abstract, which may not some day be applied to phenomena of the real world.
As quoted, without source, in D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, On Growth and Form (1942), Vol. 1, 10. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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